I have blogged many times about the issue of divorce and remarriage: ranging from the guest post by my brothers Welcoming Cardinal Kasper's Pastoral Solicitude, to the post in which I suggest that ++Kasper et al are Underestimating the Love and Compassion of God.
Yet here I go again: for I think there is still more to be said, even at the risk of being called of all sorts of names by the Holy Father.
The Church is bound to preach the Gospel of Christ, as received from Him and handed down by Apostolic Tradition and Teaching, both in the Gospel and through the inspired work of the Magisterium.
The Church is also bound to manifest Christ's love, mercy and forgiveness. But that cannot be set in opposition to preaching the Gospel and calling sinners to repent: for that is what Christ did, and that is the mission He entrusted to the Church.
The Church is not, however, bound to make people happy or feel good: indeed the Gospel warns us that we must take up our Cross, if we are to follow Christ.
Many people seem to think it unmerciful of the Church 'not to forgive divorce and remarriage.' This post is my further musing about the profound misunderstandings inherent in that point of view.
However, I have yet to hear anyone who espouses that view claim that the Church should offer absolution and unconditional forgiveness to, say, a paedophile priest who is clear that he has no intention of changing his predatory behaviour.
So I presume that they do not see divorce, or remarriage, as harmful in the same way. Yet they are.
Divorce (if more than a merely prudential measure necessary to protect oneself or one's children) is a sin against faith, hope, and charity. It is a sin against Faith, since Christ has taught that marriage cannot be ended in this way. To believe in divorce is to disbelieve in Christ's teaching and the Church's.
It is a sin against hope, since it despairs of God being able to bring good out of one's fidelity to the Sacrament of Matrimony, despite all the trials along the way.
It is a sin against charity, since the fundamental promise we make is to love our spouse until death us do part.
One cannot sin against faith, hope and charity without harming oneself and others. So in order to repent of divorce, and 'sin no more' (a Gospel requirement) we must stop believing in divorce. If divorced, we must recognise that reality: that we are still married to our spouse, with all the obligations that entails. We must seek hope, trusting in God's infinite love and mercy to bring good out of our suffering. We must seek to love our spouse, even if necessarily separated, even if they have entered a new relationship, even if they are abusive. We may have to love him or her from a distance, and that love may have to be manifested principally through prayer and fidelity to our marriage vows, but our duty to love him or her is undiminished.
Divorce is also a sin against the Sacrament of Marriage: not just that particular marriage. It manifests a disbelief in marriage itself, for the nature of marriage is lifelong. That is one of the reasons it makes a 'second' marriage impossible. If one disbelieves in marriage, one cannot contract a valid marriage. That, of course, is a secondary reason; the principal reason a second marriage is impossible is that one remains married to one's first spouse, despite any divorce proceedings.
So is divorce an unforgivable sin? Or a worse sin than any other? By no means. But, like any other sin, it does harm; and therefore the Church, in dispensing Christ's mercy, must ensure that the penitent is not left self-harming. That is why repentance and amendment are an important part of the process; and that is why a 'second marriage' must also be the subject of repentance and amendment. To suggest anything else is to deny the Gospel, and to deny the true mercy of Christ. And that would be a terrible divorce indeed!
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